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WSET Level 1 Award in Wines

by Lady Charlotte Lynham

I have always been interested in wine. And no, not just to drink but its story; how it’s grown, how it’s made, how climate, country and different methods can make the same grape taste so different. As Founder of the Bespoke Black Book, I have been lucky enough to eat at some of the best restaurants in the world and I have always taken great interest in the sommeliers choices when it comes to wine. I ask questions, I want to know why they picked that wine, and then I like to try it with the food and decide if I like it, or even get why they paired it at all, but all of this as a complete novice. I wanted to learn more, I wanted to feel confident at reviews as to my wine preferences and who knows work in wine myself at some point. Cue the WSET Level 1 Award in Wines.

The Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) is an awarding body and registered charity devoted to the development and delivery of qualifications and courses in wines and spirits. I had heard about them before when I used to work for Moet Hennessy back in the day, with many of my peers studying for a WSET qualification, but I had never had the time to dedicate to further study until COVID hit! The lockdown offered a unique opportunity that is so rare these days; free time. So when the opportunity came up to study for a WSET Level 1 Award in Wines during lockdown I snapped it up.

WSET Level 1 Award in Wines
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I chose the weekend online course option, there are many options available now though with lockdown being over including in class and online. The weekend intense course worked well for me, and drinking from 9am for educational purposes seemed less socially unacceptable on a weekend. The course includes 9 wine samples, 6 hours of tuition and your examination and a very nice WSET workbook and lexicon for tasting the wines. My wines turned up the day before with instructions for chilling, unchilling and setting up for the tastings. All wines are tasted at room temperature, no matter the colour or grape, which I found super interesting as it really showed off the aromas better than a chilled wine. I dialled into my class and there were about 6 other people learning at the same time, which was nice as having been in lockdown with only my partner and cat, it was lovely to see other faces and feel like I was in a classroom, albeit virtual. We first learnt about how to make wine, the processes, the climates, and why wine from cooler climates and warmer climates taste a certain way. All very interesting and weirdly with some wine knowledge it was like a lightbulb moment connecting the dots realising you sort of knew some of this but now it all made sense. Once we had learned the basics as to how to make wine we moved on to some popular grape varieties to decipher their distant smells and taste. This is where the wine samples came in, already poured and ready to roll, we went through each one learning why it smelt and tasted like it does based on variety, climate and terroir. From Syrah/Shiraz to Chardonnay we went through the samples smelling, tasting, annotating and discussing, it was all so interesting and I loved that as the day progressed you genuinely got a grip of it all with the knowledge taking seed. We then went on to taste the wines with food, so we could see how a wine changes with the basic “tastes” of food, including salt, sweet, fat, umani and acidic. This was mind blowing and my favourite part of the course, seeing how such base flavours can change a wine left all of us astonished. This was by far the best piece of knowledge I got to take away from this course. I now use this on all my restaurant reviews as nearly all foods can be boiled down to those 5 flavours and it makes navigating a wine list so much easier.

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Once the virtual classroom is over you are expected to do some home study to supplement the class in readiness for your exam. I went through the booklet that the course came with and tried to find patterns to make sure I could absorb the information. The exam was an online exam with multiple choice questions, I had to set up my space at home without anything that is considered contraband and then set up my phone to film me taking the exam so that WSET could check I was not cheating or anything. The exam is short, questions have 4 options to pick from answer wise and you have time to pick, review, change your mind and submit. Overall rather pain free and easy to set up and execute. After a month or so, as they have to score you and check your exam video, you get your results. WSET Level 1 Award in Wines has only two options, Pass or Fail. I passed with flying colours and received a certificate to say so and a pin badge to wear with pride. I enjoyed WSET Level 1 Award in Wines so much I went on to study WSET Level 2 Award in Wines which is far more in-depth and tougher to absorb but I was thrilled for the challenge in lockdown. I managed to score 100% in my WSET Level 2 Award in Wines so passed with Distinction, which I was so proud of, so much so I am now considering WSET Level 3 Award in Wines. But back to WSET Level 1 Award in Wines; this was such a wonderful eye opener to wine in general, it is a wonderful starting point for any wine aficionado, it’s the perfect gift for anyone who loves wine, or a great pastime for family, friends or partners to learn something together. I could not recommend it enough, it’s quick, relatively easy and you feel rather powerful after passing what with your new found knowledge. So if you like wine, what are you waiting for?

To learn more about WSET Level 1 Award in Wines see online.

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